Freedom camping on the South Island of New Zealand is glorious, especially in the more remote areas of the country. In this blog post I’ll talk about my absolute favorite freedom camping locations after seven months of living in my van and traveling in New Zealand.

To read about the best freedom camping spots on the North Island of New Zealand, please check out my post here. I loved freedom camping on the North Island even more than the South Island, although both are marvelous!

The requirements for inclusion in this list are:

  • Must have a toilet: we didn’t use our portable toilet, so we made sure to only camp in locations with bathrooms, so we could leave no trace.
  • Must be a legal freedom camping location: let’s not break any rules, and be respectful towards our Kiwi hosts!
  • Must be better than the average New Zealand freedom camping location: some freedom camping spots are functional if not pretty, and I’m super grateful for them. This blog post, however, is dedicated to the best of the best!
  • On the South Island of New Zealand.

Read on for my absolute favorite freedom camping locations on the South Island of New Zealand!

Whitecliffs Domain

Me on Arthur's Pass
I’m so mad at myself for not taking a photo of this amazing campsite: here’s Arthur’s Pass instead, we stayed at Whitecliffs Domain on the way there.

Whitecliffs Domain is one of the best freedom camping spots on the South Island. The site is a large grassy area on the banks of a river, with lush full trees offering all day shade. There’s a calm, homey atmosphere, and I palpably felt myself relax after a long drive.

We stayed there on the way to Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch, and it felt like an off the beaten track relaxing retreat in between two big touristy destinations.

In my opinion, the best freedom camping spots aren’t necessarily the ones with jaw dropping views in the middle of all the action: in fact, those types of spots are either expensive or nonexistent. The best freedom camping spots are chill. They’re places where you can unwind, read a good book on the banks of a river, do some yoga in the grass, and cook some yummy food. Whitecliffs Domain checks all of those boxes.

POPULARITY – Although there were maybe 15 vans camped there with us, Whitecliffs Domain is such a large area that we had a ton of privacy. We parked under a giant tree, and had the entire shade of the tree to ourselves.

FACILITIES – Whitecliffs Domain has a nice, clean drop toilet block. There’s a large sink for washing hands and dishes, and trash cans.

There’s no drinking water, so come prepared with enough of your own. No cell phone service

BUGS – Low

LOCATION – Whitecliffs Domain is a great place to stay on the way to Arthur’s Pass (1 hour 30 min) from Christchurch (1 hour).


  • Campsite closed in the winter due to boggy conditions
  • Check the river condition on the indicator as your drive in: during algae bloom, do not swim.
  • Consider a donation
  • Leave no trace
  • All Selwyn District rules here

Fox River

Gah this place is great! It’s the perfect place to stay to start your road trip down the West Coast Road. This is a large camping area that’s right across the road from an awesome beach with a fantastic sunset. The beach is the best driftwood beach on the West Coast Road, with cool driftwood lean-tos assembled along the coast. I collected a couple of special little driftwood pieces for some macrame projects.

The best part is the pancake truck that arrives in the morning! Definitely get some coffee and the banana bacon pancakes, they were delectable! The owner is hilarious and friendly, and also sold us some sandfly repellent which saved our butts. Especially in contrast to the hostility you can sometimes experience from locals while freedom camping, it was so refreshing to chat with someone who was so welcoming.

POPULARITY – There is lots of space here! It’s pretty popular, but getting a spot wasn’t too stressful.

FACILITIES – Fox River freedom camping spot has clean drop toilets. There’s no water or cell phone reception.

BUGS – Beware of sandflies February through April!! They can get really bad here!

LOCATION – Fox River is on the West Coast Road, about 1 hour north of Greymouth.


  • Self-contained only
  • Max 2 night stay
  • Stay in area designated for overnight camping
  • No washing dishes directly in the river!
  • Leave no trace
  • All Buller District rules here

Cobden Lagoon

Codben Lagoon is an amazing beachfront freedom camping spot in Greymouth, on the West Coast of the South Island. There’s a parking lot for about 15-20 vans on a small rocky hill above a stretch of sandy beach.

There’s a surfer vibe, as it’s popular with fit young people. In my experience everybody was very nice, clean, and respectful of the freedom camping spot. The sunset is killer, and afterwards you can fall asleep to the sound of the waves.

Be prepared for very windy conditions: on the upside, strong wind blows away the sandflies!

POPULARITY – Although there is lots of room, this spot is popular! Spots often fill up by 6pm.

FACILITIES – Cobden Lagoon has super clean toilets that are cleaned twice a day! There’s also an outdoor beach shower which is very cold in the wind, so only for the brave or the desperate.

There is drinking water, trash, and cell phone reception.

BUGS – Sandflies swarm the west coast of the South Island February through April. If the wind is strong enough here, it can blow away a significant portion of them, but you are never safe.

LOCATION – Cobden Lagoon is on the West Coast Road in Greymouth, 35 min drive from Hokitika.


  • Self-contained vehicles only (they check)
  • Leave no trace
  • All Grey District rules here

Moray Terrace Reserve

Moray Terrace Reserve is a gem of a freedom camping spot at the mouth of an estuary. It’s located in Fortrose, a small town on the south Catlins coast. The estuary supports abundant wildlife, making this a great location for birdwatching.

There’s lots potential exploring to do, wether you spot wildlife on the estuary, or head out towards the beach. In the evening, make sure you take a moment to pause and contemplate the glorious sunset in the salty wind.

POPULARITY – There is lots of room! The best spots with the unobstructed sunset views get taken early, however.

FACILITIES – Moray Terrace Reserve has drop toilets (kinda stinky), non-drinking water, trash cans, picnic tables, and cell phone reception.

BUGS – There’s sandflies February through April, ugh. They’re everywhere on the west and south coast of the South Island.

LOCATION – Moray Terrace Reserve is a great spot to explore The Catlins. It’s a 30 min drive to Slope Point.


  • 2 night max stay in 30 day period
  • Tents and non self-contained vehicles are allowed here!
  • Respect flora and fauna
  • Leave no trace
  • All Southland District rules here

Weirs Beach

Slope Point, 6 min from Weirs Beach

Weirs Beach is another excellent Catlins freedom camping spot. Also on an estuary, the campsite is on a large grassy field that is surrounded by big trees sheltering you from the merciless Catlins wind.

There’s no views from the camp spot, but just over a small hill there’s a beautiful sandy lagoon and a half-moon bay. The estuary is super fun to explore, but beware of the tide! If the tide is low, you can walk right to the beach, but keep an eye out, because the water can rise faster than you think.

POPULARITY – There’s lots of room here, but it can get very crowded during peak season (January through February). When we were there in April, we were one of three vehicles.

FACILITIES – Weirs Beach has a drop toilet, non-drinking water, and a sink with water to wash dishes (luxury!).

There’s no drinking water of trash cans, so be bring your own drinking water and carry out all trash. I didn’t get any cell phone reception, but some people say it was great, so… mixed reviews.

BUGS – You guessed it, sandflies February through April.

LOCATION – Weirs Beach is a great spot for exploring The Catlins. It’s a 6 min drive from Slope Point.


  • Max 28 nights in a calendar year
  • Tents and non self-contained vehicles are allowed here!
  • Respect flora and fauna
  • Leave no trace
  • All Southland District rules here

Lake Pukaki Overnight Camping

This is an absolutely epic spot on Lake Pukaki, with incredible views of Mt Cook over the milky turquoise water. It’s a huge site with multiple ‘levels,’ so you can pick an exposed spot with views, or be a bit more sheltered from the wind and closer to the toilets.

This is a great spot for an afternoon swim if the weather cooperates. The color of the water is unreal, and floating in it while gazing at Mt Cook is legendary. The sunset over the lake is dazzling, and rumor is so is the sunrise, but I wasn’t insane enough to find out. If you get lucky with a clear night, definitely do some stargazing!

POPULARITY – This is one of the most popular spots on the South Island, but it is also huge. Get here early for the best spots, but the chances of getting any spot are very high.

FACILITIES – Lake Pukaki Overnight Camping has drop toilets, some picnic tables, and good cell phone reception.

Bring your own water and carry out all your trash.

BUGS – Sandflies February through April.

LOCATION – Lake Pukaki Overnight Camping is right in the middle of everything. It’s right on Lake Pukaki, it’s the closest freedom camping spot to Mt Cook Village (50 min drive), and on the way to Lake Tekapo (35 min drive).


  • Self-contained only
  • Max 1 night stay
  • Leave no trace
  • All Mackenzie District rules here
Lake Pukaki and dark clouds

Further Info

I’ve loved every moment of freedom camping in New Zealand. OK, I’m romanticizing it, but it’s worth all the sandfly bites and not enough showering. If you enjoy adventure, self-reliance, and free spirit shenanigans on a budget, I couldn’t recommend this experience more.

For more information about van camping in New Zealand, including freedom camping, DOC campsites, holiday parks, and more, here’s a link to my camping in New Zealand guide. New Zealand travel apps are the best way to find good freedom camping spots. For a comprehensive guide to campervanning in New Zealand, check out my post here. Finally, I highly recommend buying a self-contained van in New Zealand: here I have all the logistics, actionable advice, and practical tips.

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